HE is one of the finest talents of the Premier League era and a Bolton Wanderers great, and Jay-Jay Okocha always relishes the opportunity to come back to the town.

Okocha was back in Bolton on Saturday (May 7) for a meet and greet evening where fans had the opportunity to chat, have a photo with and listen to the great man in an on-stage, unscripted interview – the first time he has taken part in such an event worldwide.

As guests mingled and enjoyed a drinks reception, before their meal, after which the main act would take place, The Bolton News had an exclusive chat with the seven-time Nigerian footballer of the year.

He reminisced about his time here, spoke about the season that has just ended, and how the people of Bolton took to him and made him feel so welcome.

The Bolton News: Jay Jay chatting with guests before the main eventJay Jay chatting with guests before the main event

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s like a homecoming. I had a fantastic time here and it’s always good to be back.”

“I only have fantastic memories. Not just me, the family as well.

“We settled in quite well and the people were so warm to us and for me it went beyond football, and that’s why I always feel happy whenever the opportunity comes to come back.”

In a fine career that saw him lift the Africa Cup of Nations trophy, Bolton was the club that Okocha played the most games for.

In his 124 appearances he made some great memories, but what was his favourite?

“It would be the first season when we survived,” he said.

“I never really expected us to struggle in that way. It was a reality check. I realised what it meant to the people to have their club stay in the Premier League.

“I felt fulfilled when we achieved that.”

The Bolton News: Jay Jay back in the dayJay Jay back in the day

The team he was a part of under Sam Allardyce was undoubtedly the pinnacle Wanderers teams of the modern era, however they often got tarred with the ‘long ball’ brush.

Jay Jay does not think that is wholly fair.

“It was the reputation that he built before I came,” he said.

“I think we changed that. I think we played some good football. He brought us in for a reason and we achieved that.

“I think the club was very successful in the time that we were here, and that was why we were brought in.

“I think it would be unfair to label us a long ball team when we were here because we changed the formation and the way the team used to play.”

Jay Jay has been impressed with what he has seen towards the back end of the season at the UniBol and tipped The Trotters to carry that form into next season.

He said: “It’s good to see the club doing well again – showing glimpses of hope. And hopefully they will take that into the next season and get a play-off position or automatic promotion.

“Who says it’s not possible?

“From the season that they’ve had I think things can only get better.”

One of the stars of the current squad is Jay Jay’s compatriot, Dapo Afolayan. The 24-year-old has expressed his desired to emulate Jay Jay and play for the Nigerian national team, and has also cited Jay Jay as an inspiration.

The Bolton News: Dapo Afolayan (Credit: PA)Dapo Afolayan (Credit: PA)

On Afolayan’s aspirations, Jay Jay said: “It’s up to him. He’s shown his desire to go one step further and play for the country which is something special. I can only wish him all the best and hopefully he will achieve his dreams.

“It’s always good to have a target. It’s always good to dream big. And, of course, he’s not short of talent, so hopefully he will get that call that has eluded him so far.”

He added: “It feels good [to inspire people] because that was the whole idea - to open doors for the next generation, you know? To leave your mark.

“It’s an opportunity to show that we’ve got talented players in Africa.

“I feel fulfilled when I see young ones trying to emulate what I did.”

The event was put on by Legends7, who specialise in such events with big names throughout the sporting world.

Director Des Brewer said: “We’re the first company in the world to host and evening with Jay Jay. It’s been four years in the making.”